Comment: Flyover at Keating is retrograde thinking

A commentary by an organizer with environmental group Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island and a former academic social scientist.

The recent announcement of plans for a flyover at Keating Cross Road from the Pat Bay Highway is an indication that governments at all levels are not getting the message about climate change.

It was announced last month that the federal government will contribute $16 million toward the project. The District of Central Saanich will contribute another $2.5 million, leaving the provincial government — which estimates the overall cost at $44.3 million — to kick in the remaining amount.

Given humanity’s looming confrontation with the results of past proliferation of this kind of infrastructure premised on use of oil and gas, it has become clear that new highway projects are a prime example of infrastructure that we really shouldn’t be building any longer. New highway infrastructure leads to increased use of and reliance on the personal automobile.

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The Keating Cross Road exit project might have been a great idea 30 years ago, but in the present context, it’s retrograde thinking. As we’ve been told by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, it takes courage to face up to the challenges humanity is up against, and it certainly takes courage for politicians to implement changes that challenge and contradict the status quo.

This is especially the case in an electoral environment in which, according to an Abacus poll published in February 2018, more than a third of Canadians still don’t believe climate change is happening.

Our built environment, with its deep-rooted assumptions about personal automobile use for everyday things such as commuting to work, already commits us to many years of continued reliance on automobiles, while only the smallest baby-steps are being taken toward alternatives such as expanding and electrifying public transit or establishing walkable communities. The last thing we need to be doing at this time is continuing to recklessly build more transportation infrastructure that assumes continued mass car use into the foreseeable future.

According to a study by a team of researchers led by Christopher Smith of the University of Leeds, published in January in the scientific journal Nature, even if all existing fossil-fuel-dependent transportation, power generation and industrial infrastructure (which collectively accounts for some 85 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions) was retired at the end of its design lifetime, there is still a 36 per cent probability that planetary warming will exceed 1.5 C over pre-industrial averages.

This would greatly increase the likelihood of multiple positive feedback loops such as the arctic methane feedback loop, with the resulting runaway warming and guaranteed planetary catastrophe that comes with that scenario. And of course, as we can see, that infrastructure is not being retired, but instead replaced with more of the same, and even added to, as in the case of the Keating Cross Road flyover.

The Keating project isn’t the only example illustrating decision-makers’ fixation on the traditional technologies of the status quo.

Others include, perhaps most glaringly, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will promote fossil-fuel consumption around the planet for years to come, and the McKenzie interchange — something which, like the Keating flyover, might have been a great idea 30 or 40 years ago, but is backward today.

Still others include plans for expansion of the Ogden Point cruise ship facilities and continued intermittent talk about extending a runway at Victoria International Airport, about increasing the capacity of the Sooke Road and even about building a highway through the Sooke Hills to bypass the Malahat.

All these are indications that decision-makers are not understanding the shifts in perspective or appreciating the changes in thinking needed to address the climate crisis.

Every expansion we undertake now of highways, runways and cruise ship terminals adds to the challenges future generations will face when they try to respond to the looming problems that are largely being ignored today. Every investment we make now in alternatives has the opposite effect.

“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Debra Roberts, co-chair of one of three working groups of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In light of the most recent science, it’s clear that the decisions we make now about the kinds of development we undertake and the kinds of infrastructure we invest in, will shape the challenges our children and grandchildren have to face.

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